Will the UK egg market be investigated?

The U.K. government is being called on to investigate how the market for eggs operates and offer support, as retailers finally up their help to a struggling industry.

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(Aleksandra P. | Freeimages.com)

Let’s hope that it’s not a case of too little too late for the U.K. egg industry. Despite highlighting their difficulties throughout the year and warning of shortages, only now, it would appear, is additional financial support forthcoming, while calls for the egg market to be investigated are gaining column inches.

U.K. egg producers have been ringing alarm bells for months and, as the Christmas season approaches and demand for eggs rises, consumers are finding that, in various supermarkets, sales are strictly limited.

The U.K. may not be alone in experiencing difficulties in its egg market, but the country’s National Farmers’ Union is now calling on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to investigate urgently the disruption that producers and consumers are experiencing.

The farmers’ association wants DEFRA to investigate whether an “Exceptional Conditions” declaration should be made under the Agricultural Act of 2020, which, simply put, would allow it to provide the sector with more support.

We told you so

Sadly, for U.K. egg producers, various organizations have been warning of deteriorating market conditions for months without much success.

NFU president Minette Batters noted that a huge range of issues were affecting the poultry sector, particularly within the egg supply chain, which had built up over months and of which the NFU had been warning for some time.

Earlier this year, The NFU raised its concern about the functionality of the supply chain with DEFRA a number of months ago in the hope of avoiding the current situation but, as predicted, some retailers  are now having to limit consumers’ access to eggs.

Imports on supermarket shelves

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA), which warned, back in March, that its members were losing money on every egg laid, in mid-November called for an urgent meeting with the UK’s second-largest supermarket chain Sainsbury’s after discovering that it was selling eggs imported from Italy.

BFREPA Chief Executive Robert Gooch commented that he was not surprised by the development, having warned during the first quarter that the U.K. would run short of eggs by Christmas. BFREPA has repeatedly called on retailers to pay more for eggs and, although there has been some increase, this has not been enough to cover rising input costs.

This week, has, however, seen some relief for producers, amongst a flurry of news reports about shoppers not being able to buy as many eggs as they would like, with the U.K.’s largest supermarket chain Tesco announced an additional GBP14.1 million (US$17.04 million) of support to the industry, along with an agreement of five-year contracts. Waitrose, the country’s ninth-largest supermarket chain, has pledged GBP2.6 million to the industry citing its long-term contracts as being behind why it is not having to limit egg purchases.

Other supermarket chains have also made pledges to support the sector. This, perhaps long overdue, help is said to have “delighted” some in the industry, but it will be little comfort for those producers that have exited the industry, or have suffered hardship throughout 2022.

All help is welcome, it is just a shame that it took so long to arrive. Still, it may all be over by Christmas.

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